Cardamom Pound Cake

cardamom pound cake // sweetsonian

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Cardamom is a spice that you don’t come across too much in American cooking. I never really knew what it was until I was 19, wide-eyed and living in Tanzania for the summer — it was the main ingredient in a selection of teas and desserts, occasionally, in one of the rice dishes we had. Thinking back, there are a lot of things I wish I could change about that trip, but mostly myself: how I viewed life, how I acted back then. I’m sure we all have those moments (days, weeks, months).

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Just the taste of cardamom reminds me of how much we can change in just seven years. Back then, I was on a mission to prove my dedication to international development, and to prove to my parents that I didn’t need to listen to every piece of advice they scolded my way.

I deserved the scolding. I was an asshole back then (oh man, I hope-hope-hope I’m not nearly as much of an asshole now).

But no matter how broke I was because of that trip, I wouldn’t take it back for the world.

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I lived with a handful of other volunteer teachers in a house near Bahari Beach, just outside of Dar es Salaam. There were a few women who lived in the house that also cooked for us and taught us bits and pieces of Swahili — which I used to be alright at — but honestly, the memory that sticks with me more than anything is the scent and the taste of the cardamom-infused chai tea that greeted me every morning.

They mixed the tea from scratch, and boiled water in huge vats — water that was used throughout the day for cooking, laundering, and other methods of cleaning. The tea was strained directly into a giant, baby pink thermos, and had enough tea for everyone in the house to have at least a few cups of.

Breakfast usually included a few cups of tea, lesson planning, and toast with a glass of fresh passionfruit juice. Then, I’d hop onto tht dala dala, a bus that was so packed with people that no morning was complete without a stranger sitting on your lap or crouched between the other 20 riders on a 10-person bus. After teaching elementary school in the morning and high school in the afternoon, I usually took the bus back to Bahari beach, and walked to the beach itself — not far from Rold Dahl’s house, and a separate dial-up internet cafe.

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I had a typical Tanzanian school notebook that I used as a journal back then. It shouldn’t surprise you that I was a journal-writer, because, well, I write to you here as often as I can. I will say, it’s nice to have an actual reader for this type of stuff.

But after a drink or dinner at the beach cafe, I’d come back to the volunteer house and hang out with the girls and the other volunteers. I’d cross my fingers the entire walk back, hoping that there would be some tea left.

But then again, there was always beer, too.

Baking this cake filled my apartment with the scent of cardamom, which only made me drift back even further into these memories. I bought a massive box of Chai Bora before I left Tanzania — but I went through the tea ever so quickly, back in my UCSB days of daily, chilly morning Arabic classes.

They say scents spark the strongest memories, and when they do, years might have passed between the last time you even remembered the details your mind pairs with those scents.

It felt like years had passed since I smelled cardamom. The scent is comforting.

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Recipe after the jump.  Continue reading “Cardamom Pound Cake”

Marscapone Pound Cake with Whipped Cream and Balsamic Strawberries

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There are a few good reasons why I let myself fall into freelance black holes.

The most obvious is, on several levels, financial. Freelancing = more money. More money = less debt, nicer things, and sometimes, slightly less anxiety. When I dedicate a weekend to freelance, I cloister myself. I seal my bedroom door and plug in my head phones, and I get. shit. done.

When I spend a Friday night freelancing, I chug water and green tea. I go to sleep only when I’m satisfied with the progress I’ve made, so my sleep is sound. I reward myself by silencing my phone and not setting an alarm. And when I wake up refreshed that Saturday morning, I sip my French press coffee while putting on make up and getting dressed.

Getting dressed and made up for a working weekend is key… because whether I spend my day designing from bed or designing from Ebenezer’s, that Saturday is a day of work. I am a creature of habit. There are certain things I need to do to prepare myself for a day of work, be it at home or at the Energy Department. And this ritual is one part physical, one part psychological.

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Freelancing, I’ve learned, is not for everyone. It’s not easy, and there are days and nights and weeks at a time where I feel myself slipping into a state of anxiety — an antsiness that transcends stir crazy.

There are times when I absolutely love it. Like when I was in Los Angeles for Christmas vacation, on the phone with Google from my parents’ dining table, sipping a cup of coffee from one hand, and scratching the floppy ears of my family’s grumpy yellow lab with the other. On days when I have only one job, when my makeshift office is cozy, and I have a dog under my arm — yes, those are the days. I envision my future exactly like that. One job, working from home, with a dog. Am I a grown-up yet?

Then, there are times when I’m an absolute crazy person. I’m overbooked, I say “yes” to too many projects, I have a full load of creative work at the Department, and friends celebrate birthdays over the course of entire weekends. Those days. Those days make me want to curl into a variation of the fetal position, preferably in my bathtub while periodically sitting up to swig Bulleit straight from the bottle.

The depressing part is that when I find myself so stressed out that the only mode of comfort is a bubble bath and a Manhattan, there usually isn’t time to calm down. Too much stress, too little time.

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But since 2013 began, I’ve been trying to take care of myself. To treat myself better. I work hard. I love my job(s). And I’ve taken a good hard look at several areas of my life. I’ve made goals and priorities. Three months ago, I wrote on this blog that 2013 would be my year. I wanted 2013 to be your year, too.

It’s quarter-end. In the same way that I review my tax information and prepare forms and files for record-keeping and for completing my civic transaction as a tax payer, looking back on the past three months has only magnified how much my life has changed. How incredibly different my life is. What a different place I’m in, and what a different person I’ve become. Hopefully, for the better.

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Mindy and I were discussing 2013. How 2013 would be is my year, and how 2013 would be is hers.

For both of us, 2012 started off in the dumps. And then, little by little, things started to change. It started with a new job, and just trickled into every aspect of our lives.

So this spring, I’m taking a look at 2013 and checking in on my goals. Take better care of yourself. Floss your teeth. Invest in skincare. Sleep in. Drink less.

Spend time with the people you care about most, and make time for those who stood by you through thick and thin. And remember where you came from, because when you needed help, someone came to the rescue. And someday, you’re going to be the rescuer.

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In the end, we are all creatures of habit. We have rituals before we go to bed, and rituals after we wake up. Those habits are not instinctive; you train yourself with repetition, and the action becomes part of your every day life, and part of your whole self. The things you say and the things you do over and over again are the things that will define who you think you are, and how the world interprets your own well-being.

Breaking bad habits is an art form in itself: unbelievably both simple and complex in nature, but not lacking in any psychological depth. If you bite your nails, sleep in your make up, or simply have issues being honest with yourself and with the people you love, break it. Do whatever it takes to break those habits — even if it means taking the babiest of baby steps. Love yourself, and make every decision a good one, if anything, out of self respect.

I’m going to say this one more time. Repeat after me: this — 2013 — is my year.

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Recipe after the jump.  Continue reading “Marscapone Pound Cake with Whipped Cream and Balsamic Strawberries”